Crime novels that inspired me
By Nuala Ellwood
1. The Raven by Edgar Allan Poe
As a teenager, I devoured the stories and poems of Edgar Allan Poe. I loved the strange sense of ‘otherness’ they conveyed and the wonderfully macabre metaphors that sent chills down the spine. I still wonder whether my teenage insomnia stemmed from Poe’s ‘sleep, those little slices of death’ line but I feel his influence on me now as a writer. I re-read his poem, The Raven, when I was writing My Sister’s Bones, and was struck at the parallels between the sinister bird who haunts the troubled man in the poem and the nightmares and hallucinations experienced by my war reporter protagonist as she battles the horrors of PTSD.
2. A Demon in my View by Ruth Rendell
This tells the story of Arthur Johnson, a quiet man in his late-fifties, who leads a solitary, apparently respectable life, as a book keeper for a small business in a dull London suburb. At first glance he seems an ordinary, if rather aloof, middle-aged man. But as the story unfolds, we discover that he is hiding a dark secret. Deep in the cellar of his block of flats, out of sight of his unsuspecting neighbours, is a mannequin that he periodically "strangles" in order to satisfy his homicidal urges. But then one night the mannequin is stolen and Arthur realises, with sickening dread, that if he wants to satisfy his urges he must now go out and find a real woman. In this twisted tale, Rendell delivers a masterly exploration into the mind of a psychopath and a chilling story of how evil can hide in plain sight.
3. Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky
One of my favourite novels of all time, Crime and Punishment depicts in excruciating detail the guilt, mental anguish and moral reasoning of a killer. I love the way Dostoevsky uses the landscape of St Petersburg, the labyrinthine streets, drinking dens and slums, to heighten the sense of desperation and panic experienced by Raskolnikov both in the build up to and the aftermath of his crime. I return to it again and again to remind myself just how powerful writing can be.
4. Enduring Love by Ian McEwan
McEwan takes an idyllic summer’s afternoon in which a couple, Joe and Clarissa are enjoying a picnic in the countryside and rips it apart. The horror comes out of the blue – literally – as a hot air balloon is ripped from its moorings with a ten year old boy trapped inside. Several men, including Joe, rush to help. One of them pays with his life. All are affected by the horror they have witnessed. But for Joe, the accident brings a troubled stranger into his life, marking the beginning of a dangerous obsession that threatens to destroy everything he holds dear. Though not a crime novel, it is a magnificent story of obsession written by the master of literary suspense.
5. Room by Emma Donoghue
As a mother with a young son, this novel particularly resonated with me. It tells the heartbreaking story of a mother trying to shield her five-year-old son from the horrors of a terrifying situation. The two are being held captive in a secured outbuilding at the bottom of their captor’s garden. The child, Jack, has never known life outside of the ‘room.’ Beautifully written from the perspective of Jack, Room constructs a world within a world, and demonstrates, not only the resilience of the human spirit, but also the powerful bond between mother and child, the love that can overcome evil.
About Nuala Ellwood
Nuala Ellwood is the daughter of an award-winning journalist. She was inspired by his experiences and those of foreign correspondents such as Marie Colvin and Martha Gellhorn to secure Arts Council funding for her research into PTSD for her debut psychological thriller MY SISTER’S BONES.
About My Sister's Bones
My Sister's Bones
By Nuala Ellwood
Published by Penguin (E-book - 1 November 2016; Hardback - 9 February 2017)
Kate Rafter is a high-flying war reporter. She's the strong one. The one who escaped their father. Her younger sister Sally didn't. Instead, she drinks.
But when their mother dies, Kate is forced to return home. And on her first night she is woken by a terrifying scream.
At first Kate tells herself it's just a nightmare. But then she hears it again. And this time she knows she's not imagining it.
What secret is lurking in the old family home?
And is she strong enough to uncover it...and make it out alive?